Best Places to Retire Overseas Without a Car

Cars have long been a hallmark of American culture. Many begin their love affairs with cars before they even learn how to drive and continue them throughout their lives. But cars are expensive, especially for retirees. Transportation is the second-biggest expense for Americans 65 and older after housing. The upsides of giving up a car-dependent mentality go beyond financial motivations. Being encouraged to walk or cycle more often has health benefits.

In many places around the world, particularly in Europe, having a car is either optional or unnecessary; in some places, it’s downright redundant. Consider these retirement spots where you can enjoy a car-free existence:

— Paris, France.

— Bangkok, Thailand.

— Medellín, Colombia.

— Lisbon, Portugal.

— Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.

— Milan, Italy.

— Ambergris Caye, Belize.

— Santiago, Chile.

— Barcelona, Spain.

— Panama City, Panama.

— Taipei, Taiwan.

[READ: Best Affordable Places to Retire Overseas.]

Paris, France

Paris may be the best city in the world to go car-free. It has an excellent public transportation system that consists of the Paris Métro, the RER (suburban express railway), tramways and buses. These will get you anywhere you need to go, usually in under 30 minutes.

That said, Paris is a relatively small, flat city. It’s easily accessible and best explored on foot or by bike. Public bikes are available for rent at stations across the city. Since 2014, city leaders have made it a priority to reduce cars and increase bike lanes throughout Paris, and it’s worked. Whole boulevards have been given over to bikes and pedestrians.

Bangkok, Thailand

Bangkok is one of Southeast Asia’s best-connected cities. With the BTS Skytrain, MRT (subway), Airport Rail Link, river taxis, buses and shuttles, getting around this city car-free is easy. In fact, owning a car in Bangkok is more of a hassle than it’s worth. Parking in the city is nearly impossible, and it’s notorious for its rush-hour gridlock.

The BTS Skytrain, MRT and river taxis are the best options for foreigners to use in Bangkok, with signage and announcements in English. The bus system is more complicated and may not be as accessible to those with mobility issues.

Medellín, Colombia

The Medellín Metro is a source of pride for locals. It’s the only metro system in Colombia. It’s clean, efficient and low-cost, connecting all the city’s neighborhoods. Medellín is a big, hilly city situated in a mountain basin. Luckily, the metro includes the MetroCable, which is a kind of funicular that services the hilly neighborhoods that the metro can’t reach.

Some neighborhoods even have public escalators for hill-top access. The public transit system also includes elongated bus lines, a tramcar and some 200 feeder buses that bring you to and from Metro stations. Medellín also operates a bike-sharing system known as EnCicla, and it’s free to use once you register.

[Best Places to Downsize in Retirement]

Lisbon, Portugal

Lisbon’s public transportation network is efficient and easy to use. It includes the metro, trams, trains, buses and ferries. The metro consists of four color-coded lines that are served by 55 stations across the city. This is the fastest and most stress-free way to get across the city.

Since 1901, trams similar to the ones found in San Francisco have tackled Lisbon’s hills on behalf of pedestrians. Walking can also be a great option for navigating Lisbon. It’s incredibly scenic, but also hilly. Many streets are paved with cobblestones, which are slick after years of wear. This can present problems for older folks and those with mobility issues.

Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

This beachside resort is surprisingly navigable without a car. The best option for getting around is the bus, with routes serving just about every neighborhood, especially in the Banderas Bay area. Other types of buses can also take you farther afield in Mexico, including high-end bus services that feature reclining seats, air conditioning and Wi-Fi.

Other ways to navigate Puerto Vallarta include walking, particularly along the Malecón oceanfront promenade, taxis and ride-sharing apps like Uber and InDrive. If you decide to drive in Puerto Vallarta, be aware of the hilly, cobblestone streets and limited parking options.

Milan, Italy

Milan is flat and compact, so it’s an easy city to navigate on foot or bike. Greater Milan is the largest metropolitan area in Italy, and it’s served by a metro, trams, buses, trolleybuses, and a “people mover” line (an automated transit system).

The city’s metro system is Italy’s most extensive, and all of its stations are accessible. You might not want to get behind the wheel in Italy anyway; cars can’t access certain areas of the city, which can be confusing, and Italian drivers have a reputation for fast driving.

Ambergris Caye, Belize

While there’s no public transport on this little island, you won’t ever need a car. In fact, you couldn’t own a car here even if you wanted to. Only essential vehicles are allowed here (which includes taxis), and at just 1 mile wide and about 25 miles long, you can walk just about anywhere you’d like to go. You may not even need shoes on Ambergris Caye.

If you upgrade to a bike, the island is at your fingertips. Some residents here own golf carts to get around, but they’re luxuries, not necessities. Traveling by boat is another way to get around Ambergris. You can use boats and floatplanes to visit different islands or the Belize mainland.

[READ: 8 Ways to Achieve a Happy Retirement]

Santiago, Chile

Santiago has made great efforts to overhaul its outdated transport options in the last couple decades and now offers metro and bus lines. The metro offers seven lines over 150 miles, making it the second-most extensive in Latin America after Mexico City.

Plans for more lines and the expansion of current lines are underway and expected to open soon. However, Santiago’s bus system isn’t as reliable as it should be, and the metro can be crowded. During the pandemic, the city made an effort to provide bike lanes to reduce the congestion in public transport, so this is a nice alternative.

Barcelona, Spain

Barcelona is a fairly compact, flat city, so it’s perfect for walking or cycling. That said, it’s also home to a comprehensive public transport network that includes a metro, buses, trams, funiculars, aerial cable cars, a regional railway system and more.

Twelve metro lines crisscross the city, as well as 230 bus lines. Cars are completely redundant in this city. Even when you want to travel beyond Barcelona, you won’t need to get behind the wheel. Spain is home to the second-longest high-speed rail network in the world after China, and railways intersect the entire country.

Panama City, Panama

It has taken a while to modernize Panama City’s public transport network, but nowadays, it’s completely possible to go car-free here. The Panama Metro opened in 2014, and it currently has two underground lines. The plan is to bolster it with two more lines, as well as two monorails and three tram lines, by 2035.

The city is also connected by bus, including electric bus. Panama is on a mission to reduce reliance on gas-fueled cars as part of commitments made during the Paris Agreement. An added bonus of going car-free in Panama City is the ability to avoid traffic jams, which the city is notorious for.

Taipei, Taiwan

Taipei is extremely well-connected through public transport. Options for getting around include the Taipei Metro (MRT), Taiwan High Speed Rail (THSR) system, and the Taipei Joint Bus System — all of which can be accessed with a contactless smartcard, known as the EasyCard.

The MRT is the easiest way to navigate the city. It consists of five lines that are organized by color and number and connect you to all points of interest. Trains have designated seating for the elderly, people with disabilities and pregnant people. Stations and trains are wheelchair-friendly, and most have designated Safe Zones (areas under heavy surveillance) for women and children traveling at night.

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